212 – Let’s talk about critical reflection

Presentation - ECV2022-212

Let’s talk about critical reflection

Maree Aldwinckle, Macquarie University, Australia (maree.aldwinckle@mq.edu.au)

Background: Critical reflection is a must-do part of the planning cycle for early childhood practitioners and is embedded in the Australian National Quality Standard (NQS) for children’s services through element 1.3.2. However, it is a contestable concept defined in many ways and, in practice, is often confused with commonplace reflective practice. Over 10% of early childhood services deemed as ‘not meeting’ the Australian National Quality Standard fail to meet this quality measurement.

Aim: To review whether critical reflection is necessary for quality in early childhood services.

Method: An analysis was undertaken to determine how critical reflection is discussed in the Australian National Quality Framework (NQF) documents.


    • The NQS requirement for critical reflection differs from the “ongoing learning and reflective practice” principle identified in the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF).

    • The definitions of critical reflection provided in the National Quality Framework support documents are neither consistent with the EYLF requirement nor one another.

    • Element 1.3.2 of the NQS requires critical reflection “on children’s learnings and development”. However, the Guide to the National Quality Framework outlines 12 aspects of the program that should be targeted and 17 possible ways of demonstrating critical reflection.

    • Staff with varying qualifications, including Certificate III (AQF 3) and Diploma (AQF 5), must contribute to critical reflection in early childhood services even though it is not a requirement of their qualification level.
    • The requirements around critical reflection in NQF support documents are complex and ambiguous and need to be reviewed.

Implications for children and families: There is much theoretical justification, but there is no empirical research about the impact of critical reflection, as opposed to commonplace reflective practice, on outcomes for children or service quality.

Implications for practitioners: The requirement for critical reflection and the associated documentation may contribute unnecessarily to staff stress, burnout, and poor retention in early childhood services.

Keywords: critical reflection, reflective practice, professionals’ voices, workforce issues, practitioner wellbeing, early childhood pedagogy, national quality standards, review, theory

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:


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